on 7 March 2013
I was more than a little hesitant about this one. Far Cry 3 didn't float my boat in the way I had hoped, and neither did Dead Space 3. They were both part of respectable series of games. Neither one of them bad, but neither really living up to the hype. Much as I loved those `series', Tomb Raider has always been in a different class for me (in terms of gaming `love'). Some of the recent episodes of Lara I have deliberately decided to skip for fear of disappointment. This one, I had to have.
First impressions are often crucial to how one ends up perceiving a game. In this respect, the new Tomb Raider (let's call it TR) gets off to a flyer.
I'm running the game with decent rig, albeit with a 3 year old 5870 GPU and the visuals are frankly, stunning. The detail in the water, on the beach and then as you go inland in the forest, caves and the inevitable tombs is fantastic. Far Cry has always (for me) been king in this respect, but TR is visually even more stunning. I think the fact that Crystal Dynamics have clearly worked on the `atmospheric' side of the game definitely lends a hand to bringing the graphics further into people's consciousness. Audio is excellent. Lara is perfectly voiced, but the entire supporting cast is equally good. There are a number of cut-scenes, particularly early on, but they almost never feel excessive as you can feel that they lend themselves to the development of the story.
So enter the new Lara. She's 21, bright, athletic (but not botox enhanced) and a little naïve. Voiced exceptionally well, she definitely feels like a younger Lara should. The game distinguishes itself from its predecessors by assuming a more mature tone. Gone are the cartoony characters and limitless ammunition with an almost indestructible Lara. She's now extremely vulnerable (at times seemingly excessively so) and clearly in the transformation phase from young woman to the confident Lara we've got to know so well over the years. The violence is far more graphic with blood and gore aplenty. Thankfully none of it seems excessive as it serves to effectively shape Lara and help her down the path of `maturing' as the game progresses.
The gameplay resembles a number of recent games. Drake (on the PS3) springs to mind. It's not overly hard and feels a tiny bit like your being forced down a heavily scripted path. But at the same time, the overall experience of the game makes the linear and scripted nature almost seem irrelevant. The enjoyment factor is just too high.
As with many new games, the cover system is automatic during combat. But this seems to work as it should, so no gripes. Enemy AI is reasonable if not brilliant. Still a challenge, but providing you stay in the shadows as much as you can, Lara should still prevail. Human enemies start off easy and gradually (and naturally evolve).
The wolves are a little annoying as they spawn along certain paths, and you know in advance before you get there that, as this is a path you need to cross, the wolves will be there. But it's a small gripe and you can still `loot' the corpses for `salvage' (see below). There was talk of a `rape' scene in this game. Although I can see where that comes from, I don't think it ever really becomes a risk of rape. Although this is suggested at one point, as soon as Lara starts to resist and fight back, it becomes a survival scene as her assailant seems far more focused on killing her rather than getting her kit off.
Weapons are varied (the stealthy longbow is a great addition) and can be upgraded through the interactive menus available to you at each of your camp sites. This is quite a good way to do it, and most importantly relies on only one raw material (`salvage'). So whatever you decide to upgrade, you will always use the same inventory of salvaged material to do so. There are also skill points, much like Far Cry 3 which are either `survivor' or `hunter'. Self-explanatory and I will not go further into this for fear of spoiling.
There are a number of `tombs' to raid and even more to download as extra DLC. These feel a bit like `intstances' for those that play RPGs. I personally am really enjoying them as you get to do what Lara does best while simultaneously taking a break from the main plot. You get some nice loot and awards for each tomb you complete. The puzzles are not overly difficult and you have a type of `eagle vision' (think Assassin's Creed) that helps identify objects with which you can interact by their gold colouring. This is close to cheating, but you don't HAVE to use it if you don't want to. Everyone does though :-). Still, it means it's hard to get stuck, both while your raiding tombs, but also throughout the main game.
Enough rambling. This game is great. A worthy addition to the TR games of old, if not perhaps the more recent additions. Any TR fan worth his or her salt will love the game. Those that are new will probably still love it for the attempt to focus on as many important details as possible. It's a joy to play, and the storyline keeps you engrossed without every becoming overly burdensome.
My (extremely limited) gripes:
It's a little easy at times. Both the gameplay and puzzles.
Ammo is too plentiful. If you put limits on the ammo that can be carried, make it a real obstacle to the way people will play. If not, why bother?
Cut-scene frequency and length.
My verdict? Highly recommended - and visually beautiful to play.
I'd give this four stars, but I'm giving it 5 to offset all the idiots giving it one star because of Steam related problems.
Having finished it now, I wanted to make a couple more points - for accuracy.
Yes, there are more than a few QTE. But these are painfully easy. I don't understand a lot of the complaints. Also, you can often use them to perform 'finishing' or 'incapacitating' moves. I liked this. It can help immeasurably when you're heavily outnumbered. Just remember to be patient before hitting 'F'. Mashing it will not help....
There is a 'fast-travel' function that allows you to go back to parts (earlier campsites) of the island you have not completed eg to collect missing relics and documents. In all my gaming years, I had never used this type of function before, but I did in TR. I was so engrossed in the storyline first time through certain areas that I had flown past them too quickly for my own satisfaction. There are treasure maps (that you need to find) for each area which can help you collect all relics and documents. A nice touch for those perfectionists out there.
There is a third skill subset - the 'brawler'. Allows you to upgrade combat style and includes finishing moves and improved proficency with different weapon types.
And one more minor gripe - The tombs are very easy to find, and include no combat. It's all about the puzzles to get to the hidden 'treasure'. As per my earlier gripe, this makes the tombs a little to easy. The puzzles of earlier games in the TR series are rocket science compared to these.
But still a fantastic game and these updates do not affect my overall rating or appreciation of the game.